THE CURRENT crop of releases by young local rock bands divides pretty neatly: three from Dischord, Washington's (and perhaps America's) premier hardcore punk label, three from Baltimore bands that owe their sounds to the dance-rock strategies of post-punk Britain, and one retrospective from a Washington band that doesn't fit with either group.
THE BALTEK -- "Bullets from Heaven" (Neatface NFR 2054). At its best, this Baltimore quintet can play exuberant American funk that doesn't sound as if it's been filtered through arty British intermediaries; the EP's opening song, "Shaken Inside," is positively Princely in its loose-limbed vigor. A few other tracks are equally direct, but the British-style mannerisms are soon evident. Brittle, brooding tracks like "There's a Place" don't meld with up-tempo romps like "Manworld," but if the Baltek can someday synthesize the two styles it could be a very interesting band.
BEEFEATER -- "House Burning Down" (Dischord 23). In theory, this platter is a lot like the now-defunct quartet's first album, "Plays for Lovers": an eclectic, ambitious mix of punk, funk, acid-rock and reggae fueled by lead singer Tomas Squip's internationalist outrage. Where "Lovers" rather improbably hung together, though, the guest-studded "House" sounds like the work of a band that's falling apart. Some songs, like "Bedlam Rainforest" and "Live the Life," work as well as anything on the first record, but Squip's lyrics have lost their focus and the disc's flow is undermined by too many interludes dedicated to jazzy noodling and inside jokes.
GREY MARCH -- "Grey March" (Unconscious 001). Gloomy dirges like "Isle of Quiet" and "Way of the Cross" easily qualify this Baltimore quintet for a shot at any Broadway productions of "Joy-Division-Mania," but there's more to this six-song record than just slavish homage to that seminal British doom-punk outfit. The band also gets positively upbeat on "Vertical" and the punky "Forced by Pressure." Grey March is a long way from having a style it can call its own, but when its sound isn't too obviously borrowed the band is agreeably energetic.
MADE FOR TV -- "Spies Everywhere" (Vinyl Siding VSR 4908). Perhaps because of the cachet of having ex-Velvet Undergrounder John Cale as its producer, this D.C. quartet's "So Afraid of the Russians" became a new-music hit in 1983; this EP reissues that out-of-print single's two songs, plus four tracks recorded live at New York's CBGBs. It can't be said that "Russians," a recitative dig at right-wing paranoia, has aged poorly: It wasn't very interesting the first time around. Still, the live recordings are stronger than might be expected, though their craggy industrial-funk owes so much to Pere Ubu that it seems to make sense when singer Tom Lyon starts aping Ubu singer David Thomas.
MARGINAL MAN -- "Identity" (Dischord 13). This quintet has gotten more polished since this 1984 release, recently made available again, but this may well be its most engaging work. Made under the influence of Minor Threat and an introductory psychology class, the record has the directness and spontaneity typical of earlier Dischord releases. The songs are short and fast, but not harsh by hardcore standards, and the playing is assured. The record's principal charm, though, is hearing an earnest, well-meaning young band attempt to invent itself on its own, rather than the record industry's terms.
RITES OF SPRING -- "All Through a Life" (Dischord 22). The most celebrated HarDCore band since Minor Threat split, the nominally disbanded Rites of Spring (the four members are actually back together in a new band, Happy Go Licky) finally follows its incendiary 1985 album with this quieter but nearly as impressive EP. Guy Picciotto's shouting sometimes overwhelms the low-key songs, but the way his skittering guitar interlocks with Eddie Janney's more than compensates. The subtle production, by Ian Mackaye and the band, rewards repeated playings, eventually revealing deeply buried backing vocals on the title song and "Patience."
VIGIL -- "Vigil" (Chrysalis BFV 41568). This Baltimore quartet plays crisp, melodic dance-rock flavored by acid-rock guitar. Though the sound is rendered with confidence, it's not particularly distinctive, and the catchiest song, "Whistle in the Yard," is a remake/remodel from a disc (now a collector's item) that the band recorded under the name Here Today. Still, those who don't let awkward lyrics (the punny "Celiba Sea" is particularly off-putting) distract them from strong tunes and a good beat will find much to like.